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Special Event

Fleischer Briefs Press

Aired March 5, 2001 - 12:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're up again standing by for the White House press briefing, and in fact, here's...

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In fact, let's go to the White House right now. Ari Fleischer, White House press spokesman, there about to address the press with his daily briefing.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SPOKESPERSON: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming in.

Several personnel announcements today: The president intends to nominate Kenneth Dam to be deputy secretary of treasury. The president intends to nominate William S. Farish to be ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And the president intends to nominate Roger Walton Ferguson Jr. (ph) to be a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve system. We'll have paper coming out on that shortly.

And those are the only announcements I have. I'll be more than pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: Where does the administration stand and what does it plan to say in reference -- about this tunnel?

FLEISCHER: Any conversations on that -- well, let me back up one step. If the reports are accurate or inaccurate is not a topic that I'm at liberty to discuss, and any conversations between our nations will be private ones.

QUESTION: You know that tax cut will be phased in, the lower rates will be introduced basically over the years. At the same time, we are told that the size of the tax cut, under no circumstances, would this scale back, in case a surplus wouldn't come in as expected. Does that make any fiscal sense or common sense? Why shouldn't the actual cut just follow the actual surplus as it comes in?

FLEISCHER: The rate at which the tax cut is phased in is reflective of the fact that we have a surplus that is exploding. The surplus is growing in leaps and bounds under all economic projections. In the current fiscal year, that surplus is approximately $250 billion to $300 billion. In the year 2010, that surplus is projected to be between $750 billion and $800 billion or so. And so the size the tax cut does grow as the surplus grows. QUESTION: Could you tell us what makes the president such a believer in 10-year projections, since it's been proven that even 10- month projections are not safe and correct?

FLEISCHER: Well, it's interesting, because the House requires, of course, a five-year budget window; the Senate requires a 10-year budget window. So no matter what the president submitted in his budget, the House and the Senate would have no choice but to follow suit, five years, House; 10 years, Senate. And that's in keeping with the -- actually, I don't know if it's statute, but it's the longstanding procedures of the House and the Senate.

So the president's budget can be viewed as a one year, five year, 10 year, whatever window you like. And the budget specifies in each of the next 10 years what those numbers are.

QUESTION: Ari, what's he going to do be doing this week to get the thing through? And could you preview tomorrow's trip a little bit?

FLEISCHER: On the second part of the question, the president will be traveling to Chicago, Illinois, tomorrow, where he'll be making the case for his budget and tax plan, talking about the importance of economic growth, talking about how we are all in this economy together. And one of the interesting phenomenons that have happened in the American economy in the last decade or so is this growing investor class -- the surge of middle-income Americans who now invest in markets, have mutual funds or have other investments.

It's another reminder how we all are in this together and that markets often are leading indicators, suggesting which direction the economy will grow or go. And the president believes that he has an economic plan that can help strengthen the economy, and he will talk about that generally at the exchange tomorrow in Chicago.

The president's going to continue to meet with members of Congress, discuss his plans with members of Congress. And we're looking forward to Thursday's vote in the House of Representatives. We expect that this will be a singular moment, a very important day for getting tax relief to the American people. And we're pleased to be working with such a do-something Congress.

QUESTION: In his approach to this, is he looking ahead to the Senate, assuming that he's fine in the House?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's a little premature until the House acts, of course. But throughout this whole process, he's been working with both House members and Senate members. But all revenue items must originate in the House. And upon completion in the House, only at that point can the bill go to the Senate and the tax work begin in the Senate.

QUESTION: Ari, is he going to North Dakota to send a message to Senator Conrad?

FLEISCHER: He's going to North Dakota and South Dakota and Louisiana. And for the same reasons that he's been traveling as he did into Pennsylvania or to Missouri or to Nebraska, he wants to speak directly to the voters about his plan, to build up support for the plan, and to urge the voters to contact the representatives.

QUESTION: But the real reason he's going to these states is because on the target list in the White House, at least half of them are up for re-election, particularly in the Senate.

I mean, the president's a pretty charming guy, but would you dismiss the idea that this is a fairly heavy-handed, hardball approach to making sure that the vote gets through, that the package gets through?

FLEISCHER: I think the president talking directly with the voters can never be seen as heavy-handed or hardball. I think it's what presidents do for a living.

And as I indicated, the president is going to talk to constituents and urge them to contact their representatives. You bet.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You're just not going to answer...

QUESTION: Perhaps my questions was too subtle. You do want to send a message to Senator Conrad, I assume.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think I answered your question, saying anytime the president travels and he urges people to send e-mails or pick up the phone or send letters...

QUESTION: It's not really pushing the tax thing. It's really to get to the people who are opposed to him.

FLEISCHER: I think it's called the essence of governing...

QUESTION: Oh, that's the essence of governing?

FLEISCHER: ... is to reach out to the voters, to talk to them so they agree with the presidential agenda, so they'll contact their representatives. Absolutely.

QUESTION: You pointed before to sharply partisan votes in tax bills before as, kind of, that's how Congress does business. Since the House Ways and Means Committee was a party-line vote and the House vote is this week, can you point to anything that shows that President Bush has brought any kind of new climate or bipartisanship to what Congress has done?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, I want to remind everybody about the last time a tax bill was enacted into law, and that was in 1997 when the Congress, the Republican-controlled Congress, passed a $285 billion tax cut that was signed into law by President Clinton. It was that tax cut that actually created the $500 per child credit.

There was none prior to that. It lowered the capital gains rate from 28 to 20 percent. This is a significant tax relief package.

At that time, too, every Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee chose to vote against it at the beginning of the process. By the time it got to the end of the process, it was a different story.

So there's a history and a tradition up on Capitol Hill to have bills emerge. But still, they ultimately get signed into law; at least that was the case in the previous one. And we're confident that we're going to be able to work with enough Democrats and Republicans alike to secure passage both in the House and the Senate, not only on the first go-round, but on the final conference agreement, which will be the most important of all.

And I do think that if you look around, you'll see that the tenor is changing, and I think it's changing over time. I think you're seeing that -- even the calls for investigations I think are diminishing. I think you see less and less people interested in looking back and more people looking forward, more people interested in working on the substantive agenda.

And I do submit that there is, over the last several years, a case of pent-up demand for getting things done. And the president's going to work with people in both parties to get things done.

QUESTION: Has this White House asked Congress not to do more investigations, particularly on the pardons?

FLEISCHER: The president spoke about that last week. And he said that he's moved forward. And I think people hear his message. And Congress still is a separate branch.

QUESTION: Are you saying that because there are fewer investigations, it's a sign of bipartisanship?

FLEISCHER: No, I think you're seeing increasing signs from people up on the Hill saying, "Let's move forward," on all issues. And it is still early in the session. I've indicated we're pleased to be working with a do-something Congress, but it's early in the session.

Typically, sessions start out and then the legislation starts coming out over the months. And we'll have additional items of legislation coming to us, and I think we'll all be able to see what the votes are as Congress takes up bills.

QUESTION: Does it strike you as odd that you're talking about bipartisanship on the one hand, and on the other hand, the president is going out to all the states where there are possibly vulnerable Democrats, to make some convincing arguments, he hopes, that this tax cut should be passed?

FLEISCHER: Well, of course, he also traveled to Pennsylvania where you have two Republican senators, and it's exactly what presidents do for a living.

QUESTION: One of whom doesn't agree with the president's tax program, which is on the record. FLEISCHER: If the suggestion is that it's somehow inappropriate for the president of the United States to travel the country to talk to the voters who elected him and to make his case to the people and urge them to contact their representatives, that's a new and novel notion.

QUESTION: What about the spirit of bipartisanship?

FLEISCHER: That's exactly what the president does for a living, and he's going to keep on doing it.

QUESTION: Bipartisanship, come on?

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: I fail to see the lack of bipartisanship. I see everything bipartisan.

QUESTION: In the spirit of bipartisanship, though, Senator Daschle has accepted an invitation from one of the TV stations in South Dakota to have a live discussion with the president on tax policy. Is that something the president would be interested in?

FLEISCHER: I think it was a challenge to the president to debate, and that is not the purpose of his trip. There will be no such debate. The president's looking forward to the travel.

Did you have a follow-up?

QUESTION: Does the president believe that a vote against this tax package is a vote for recession?

FLEISCHER: The president believes that the tax package is one of the best ways that we have of stimulating the economy to keep out of recession, and he would hope that all members of Congress, both parties, will vote for the tax package, because taxes are too high, because the surplus belongs to the people and they should have it back, and to stimulate the economy. He thinks it's a combination...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... he agree with that rallying cry?

FLEISCHER: I think I just answered it.

QUESTION: Does he think the pardon investigations should end now? You're saying he's tired of investigations and the...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: As the president said last week, he has moved on. He's looking forward. He understands that Congress will do as Congress does. Congress is a separate institution. And I remind you that many of the things people are talking about on the Hill are bipartisan in their expressions of concern. But the president has moved forward. QUESTION: Is he or other officials calling up on the Hill, asking them to end the pardon probe thing, saying it's time to move on?

FLEISCHER: The president spoken out. I think people understand the president's view. But as I indicated, the president also knows that Congress is a separate institution.

QUESTION: Congress is a separate institution, but it would be fair to say, in explaining what the president meant, the senior officials say, "Can you get this over with quickly?"

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware if any senior officials are doing that.

QUESTION: Ari, there's a report published in the New York Times today that a religious group called Samaritans Purse, which receives U.S. government funds through AID requires people to attend prayer meetings or watch movies before they receive the assistance that the U.S. government is supporting. Does the administration condone this kind of practice?

FLEISCHER: AID is looking into that matter, to make certain that all aid assistance is carried out in accordance with the law. And that's a matter the AID is looking into.

QUESTION: Well, AID has in fact issued a statement saying that government money cannot be used to finance religious activities. So does the administration plan to alter that policy?

FLEISCHER: In regard to the specific question about El Salvador and any of the practices in El Salvador, AID is looking into that matter now. AID is looking into that matter now.

QUESTION: How is the president being kept informed of the various disputes...

HARRIS: The press spoken of the White House, Ari Fleischer, there, talking to the press today about a number of different topics of point emerged today. There seems to be a difference in view of bipartisanship among the president and the White House.

We also did learn today that President Bush is going to be going to Chicago tomorrow appearing at the Mercantile Exchange there, among other locations. He's going to be talking about how the importance of the economic growth is made apparent by the economy, and how we are all in this together, and that the surge of Americans investing in stock markets makes it even more apparent a need for a tax cut.

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